There Is None Righteous; No, Not One

The  Bible says in Romans 3:10 that there is none righteous, no, not one.  Why is that?

It is not because all of us have committed at least some small sin somewhere in our lives so that we’re therefore guilty of the whole law. Contary to popular Evangelical belief, a person who commits only one small sin in their lives is a righteous man who will go to heaven based on his works (Rom. 2:5-7; Ezek. 18:27).

Read the verses that follow Romans 3:10. The people Paul are talking about have a throat like an open grave, the poison of snakes on their lips, deceit on their tongue, their feet are swift to shed blood, and destruction and misery are in their ways. Nice, huh? Those are the unrighteous that Paul is talking about.

So, is everyone like that?

We all know everyone is not like that. So why did Paul say they were? I have two things to look at:

1.) Paul is quoting the Scriptures when he writes this passage. All of it, from Romans 3:10 to Romans 3:18, is quoted from various parts of the Old Testament. He’s not just making a statement of his own, and that matters. He’s bringing up some passages to prove a point, not saying on his own that no one is righteous. One of the places he quotes is Psalm 14, where the Psalmist tells us, “They are all gone aside; they became filthy together. None does good, no, not one” (vs. 3). Yet that very same Psalm also tells us, “God is in the generation of the righteous.” I thought there were no righteous!

There are righteous. The Bible speaks in all sorts of general terms about things that are not universal. Not all the Pharisees robbed widows’ houses, but Jesus was not careful to specify that. Many Pharisees believed in him; he left them to figure out on their own that he wasn’t talking about them. (If you want a place to complain about me: yes, I’m saying that “no, not one” does not mean “not one.”)

2.) Even though we may behave correctly outwardly, that does not mean that we are righteous inwardly. Paul said that in regards to the Law he was blameless prior to his conversion (Php. 3:6). Yet in 1 Tim. 1:15 he says he is chief of sinners. In 1 Cor. 15:9 he says he’s not fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church of God.

I do not believe that Christians are supposed to live in Romans 7 (where we do what we hate and don’t do what we want to do). Romans 8 is the answer to Romans 7. Romans 7 describes “the law of sin and death.” Romans 8 describes “the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” that delivers us from the law of sin and death.

However, I believe that lesson #1 for every Christian is “that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18). You will never go anywhere if you do not figure out that you are evil. Yes, you. Jesus addressed his disciples with, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him?” (Luk. 11:13). His apostles didn’t flinch at this; I’m sure they were used to it. We need not to flinch at it, either. You had better understand it because you need the salvation of God. “God is with the generation of the righteous.” Didn’t I quote that earlier and say there’s righteous people? Yes, I did, but you’re not one of them, and neither am I. We really are sinners, just like Paul. Maybe he’s chief; but maybe you or I are.

Get used to that idea because the only righteousness God will accept is Christ’s. He has been made righteousness for us. And Jesus doesn’t produce a fake righteousness wherein he closes his eyes and pretends we’re good. No, as John puts it, “He who practices righteousness is righteous even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7). Jesus has been made righteousness for us, and that righteousness is visible. Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel of God because the righteousness of God is revealed in it (Rom. 1:17). Two chapters later he says the righteousness apart from the Law was “manifested.” Jesus’ righteousness can be seen. Let us be a people, “zealous for good works,” who know how to receive empowering grace by faith (Tit. 2:11-14).

Paul’s arguments in Romans 3 are directed at Jews, but they are a perfect argument to us Christians. At the end of Romans 2, he told the Jews that if they don’t actually keep the righteousness of the Law, their circumcision won’t do them any good; it will become uncircumcision. Then he goes after them in Romans 3. “Look at all this stuff the Scriptures say,” he cries out to them. Then he lists verse after verse stating that people–all people or at least someone–are terribly unrighteous. Then he lets them have it. Here comes the haymaker in v. 19: “We know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law.” “Hey, my fellow Jew,” he is saying, “these verses are about you!!!”

Once he’s made it clear that they are the unrighteous, neglecting to keep the righteousness of the Law even though they’ve done the religious act of being circumcised, he tells them to receive the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Now don’t get confused here. I know Evangelicals often bring on pretend righteousness here. Pretend righteousness doesn’t work here. Those who don’t practice righteousness aren’t righteous, John says, as we saw above. Paul says the very point of Jesus dying was so that the righteous requirement of the Law could be fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit. So the point is not that righteousness–real, lived-out righteousness–doesn’t matter. The point is that the only way to achieve it is by the Spirit of God. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, then you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

 I’m going to add another blog immediately, because I really want to address the “one little sin” thing. It’s part of a doctrinal system that is, in my opinion, insulting to God.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to There Is None Righteous; No, Not One

  1. MikeL says:

    Whenever someone suggests to a Christian (most particularly evangelical Christian) that the law of God still stands today, one of the first things out of their mouths to refute the suggestion comes from Romans 3. We are quickly informed that no one is able to keep the law, and all are guilty of breaking it and forever remain labeled by it… unrighteous. Then we hear this quote:

    “There is none righteous, no, not one”. Romans 3:10

    This passage is again a quote Paul takes from the Scriptures to prop up and prove his case. From verse 10 on through 18 is Paul’s apparent direct quote from Scripture that is supposed to prove to us that no one is righteous, but all are full of evil. Please read all eight verses for yourself. Now guess what? No such single passage exists! What Paul quotes is a compilation of no less that six separate passages that have been jerked out of their original context in the Psalms and the book of Isaiah, and they are all strung together in such a fashion that it appears they are one. We have seen this deceptive practice of Paul’s before. Remember in Romans 9, where he pastes together two short passages from Genesis and Malachi concerning Jacob and Esau?! And Paul’s accuracy in quoting from the Psalms leaves much to be desired. The first passage he quotes in verses 10-12 come from Psalm 14. Here is his version first.

    As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” Romans 3:10-12

    Now here is the passage quoted accurately… and in its context.

    “The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God”. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none (of the atheistic fools) who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the (corrupt) children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is non who does good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on the Lord? There they ( the evil people) are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the RIGHTEOUS. Psalm 14:1-5 (Amplification in parentheses mine)

    Guess what? In David’s picture there are no atheistic fools who do good! This passage is obviously not speaking of every human being but of a very distinct group of people whom David describes as fools, atheists, workers of abominations, corrupt, ignorant, and workers of iniquity. Of course, not one of them do good. And these evil people are pitted against a second group of real people known as “my people” and “the generation of the righteous”. Even in this very Psalm that Paul quotes from, there are obviously those whom God refers to as “righteous”! This is hardly the picture Paul wants us to get from this Psalm. Notice also Paul’s embellishment of this passage. He would have us believe the phrase, “no, not one” is used twice when it is only used once. The first time Paul uses the phrase is where it doesn’t exist, and it is coupled with the word “righteous” which Hebrew word doesn’t exist in this part of the Psalm or anywhere near the words “no, not one”. Instead the Hebrew word for righteous shows up later in verse 5 and directly implies that there are those who are righteous! So much for Paul’s “no, not one”.

    In Paul’s string of quotes in Romans 3:10-18, he continues in verse 13 to take Scripture snippets out of their context from Psalm 5:9 and Psalm 140:3. In verse 14 he snips from Psalm 10:7. Verse 15,16 and 17 he yanks from Isaiah 59:7,8. And verse 18 he jerks from Psalm 36:1. In each and every case, the people spoken of in these passages are specifically evil men, and in the greater context of these passages, the evil men are contrasted with people who are called “the righteous”, “the upright”, and “the innocent”. Please check for yourself. They are all obvious and easy to see except for the Isaiah quote. In Isaiah, compare 59:7,8 which Paul quotes to the previous chapter… Isaiah 58:6-12 and take special notice of the word “righteousness” and how it is used in verse 8.

    Paul wants us to believe that no one becomes righteous through the works of the law. But there are many whom God called righteous. From Genesis 7:1 where He says to Noah, “I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation”, all the way through to the New Testament where Yeshua says, “many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it…”, there are many references to righteous men. Take an exhaustive concordance and look under the word righteous.

    • Shammah says:

      The problem here is not that Paul misunderstood or misused the Hebrew Scriptures. The problem is that you don’t understand Paul, Jesus, or the Hebrew Scriptures yourself.

      Of course, Paul pulled verses out of context. Isaiah 7:14 is pulled out of context to support the virgin birth by Matthew. The “text without a context is a pretext” mantra given by modern Christians may be true concerning the theological portions of the apostles’ writings, but in general, of spiritual writings, it is not true.

      Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their trust in the Scriptures, which was really their trust in their own interpretation of Scripture.

      Paul was better aware, I’m sure, of the context of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 than you are. I don’t think anyone can read Psalm 14:1-3 the way you explained it. Psalm 14:1, yes, but not verses 2-3. Paul’s use of verses 2-3 is much better than yours.

      On the other hand, you’re correct that righteous people are mentioned in Psalm 14 (and 53). Paul was just like those psalms. He didn’t have any problems speaking of righteous people both under the old covenant and the new. He discusses people who keep the righteousness of the law in Rom. 2:26, and of Gentiles whose conscience would vindicate them at the judgment in Rom. 2:13-14.

      Paul, however, was aware that all such righteousness was the product of faith. Was David righteous because of his excellent law-keeping? I think not, as he obviously knew nothing of the Law until Pharez was killed by touching the ark. Sometime over the next three months, David consulted the Law and learned about it. David was a man of faith, who sacrificed on the threshing floor of Araunah, away from the tabernacle, in disobedience to the Law but in obedience to the command of God. Samuel, also a righteous man, sacrificed on a high place, and Saul was sent to him there to receive the anointing as king.

      These men were righteous by faith before they knew the Law.

      Paul points this out beautifully in Romans, without ever being confused–like many modern Christians–into believing that the unrighteous (the envious, jealous, greedy, partiers, slanderers, cruel speaking, and sexually immoral) could inherit the kingdom of God. In fact, he warned us to beware of being deceived about that (1 Cor. 6:9).

      The interpretation of Paul by fundamentalists is usually shameful and embarrassing, easily torn apart. His interpretation by the churches the apostles started is different, never even aroused a discussion about a conflict with James are Hebrews, and preserves what God is after, that we would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Law–not the Law as it was revealed for an earthly kingdom by Moses–but the Law as it was brought into fullness by Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God.

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